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Friday June 24, 2016, 9:35 pm

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Leamington Legion to close
By Bryan Jessop

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 84 in Leamington will soon close its doors permanently.

As one of several branches across the county that has struggled to maintain its membership numbers in recent years, rumours of impending closure began surfacing after the Leamington location began experiencing trouble in appointing a new president, first vice president and second vice president. Branch 84 messages were posted on its Facebook page on April 6 and May 7 notifying membership that the positions would have to be filled to avoid having to relinquish the charter. After being unable to do so in April and then again about two months later, those attending the scheduled June 15 meeting voted to relinquish the branch’s charter.

“We knew it was coming and we had to make it official,” said current Branch 84 president Bob McKee. “We’ve raised some money, but the biggest trouble is finding people to do the work. The duties are just too much for the people who are doing it — they’re aging and we can’t find enough young people. The majority are seniors or close to being seniors and the younger members have families.”

Although most branches elect leadership roles for terms of one year, McKee has been the Leamington Legion’s president for the past three years. He has been a member of Branch 84 for the past 57 years, when his father signed him up after he completed basic training in 1959. McKee was also president for 1998-99 and 1999-2000.

“We’ve got hard-working members willing to volunteer for different things, but there’s no one who wants to take office,” McKee said.

The Leamington Royal Canadian Legion originally opened its doors 90 years ago, in 1926. Membership reached a high of about 1,000 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but fell to 112 by the time the 14 Orange St. building was sold and a smaller, leased building at 27 Erie St. North became the new home in the autumn of 2010. Presently, there are 88 Branch 84 members in good standing.

McKee noted that many service clubs based in the Leamington area are having trouble recruiting and retaining members and that the problems that have faced the local Legion are not unique across Canada. Windsor branches on Wyandotte and Drouillard were forced to download in previous years while Branch 28 and 628 in Chatham were forced to amalgamate and become Branch 642. Other Legions across the country have also surrendered charters in recent years.

In preparation of a charter surrendering ceremony, the Leamington Legion must first dispose of or disperse its property and take care of any outstanding liabilities. Current members interested in moving on to other nearby Legions such as Branch 324 in Wheatley or Branch 188 in Kingsville can be transferred by McKee, who as his last function, can transfer himself should he chose to do so. He hopes to have the charter surrendering ceremony completed by late July of this year.

The final public function for Branch 84 will be its Seniors’ Christmas in July event, scheduled for Wednesday, July 13.  Music will begin at 3 p.m. and meals will be offered at 5 p.m. with Gord Ciliska providing live entertainment. Tickets for the event can be purchased at the Legion’s bar during regular operating hours.

Some members of Branch 84 have already expressed an interest in being transferred to Wheatley or Kingsville, both of which are also members of Zone A2, which includes all Essex County Legions minus those in LaSalle, Windsor and Tecumseh. Wartime memorabilia at the Leamington location will likely be sent to other branches, some of which have already expressed an interest in offering such items a new home.

While Branch 84 does not host a large collection of keepsakes on display, it has for several years been in possession of a solid brass bell that was mounted onto the frigate HMCS Seacliff in 1944. The small, eight-inch bell is on loan from the International Department of Defense, although McKee plans to meet with representatives of the federal organization in hopes of having it — along with a photograph of the Seacliff’s original crew — sent to either Branch 324 or 188.

In addressing the future of Remembrance Day ceremonies in Leamington, McKee and other Branch 84 members have been discussing methods to continue honouring the nation’s past and present military veterans. If another organization wishes to conduct Remembrance Day traditions, McKee explained, a short ceremony could be arranged, although there will be no Legion for participants to meet at prior to or afterwards. Organizations wishing to lay wreaths can do so by ordering them from other nearby Legions.

The only hope of keeping the Leamington Royal Canadian Legion open would be for members to step forward and fill the positions in the very near future. Although elected positions can only be filled by those who have been members for one year or longer — who must also have attended a minimum of three meetings in the year prior to election — McKee explained that Command would likely allow exceptions for the sake of saving a branch. In such an event, the notice of motion to surrender the charter would be withdrawn, although McKee is not optimistic of seeing such an 11th-hour turn of events take place.

“We’re in a very late stage for anyone to step up,” he said. “We could call for a special meeting and it could be done, but it’s highly unlikely. If there was someone willing to do that, they probably would have come forward by now.”



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